Some gun control is as American as Wyatt Earp. In both Wichita and Dodge City, Wyatt Earp set boundaries for areas into which no guns were to be carried.“In the 10 months before Earp became town marshal for Dodge City, 25 people had been shot and killed in the town and twice as many wounded in saloon brawls and street battles. In the eight months following the establishment of no guns north of the railroad tracks for Dodge City, only two men had been shot and killed in brawls and no one killed by a police officer.” And this was during the time the cattle drives and celebrating cowboys arrived. (Stewart H. Holbrook, “Wyatt Earp U.S. Marshal,” pages 3, 4, 30)–David Manzano from the Knoxville News Sentinal
Sprung from a week of immeasurable sorrow is, perhaps, a faint glimmer of hope. The heart-wrenching scenes of loved ones gathered at funerals for innocent, tiny, souls and life-saving, heroic teachers may actually have been the watershed of watershed moments for a country seemingly inextricably tied to weaponry.
For one, the entire nation– if not the world– has been taken to its knees by the sheer evil that took place in Newtown. How does any “sane” person look at that and not begin an immediate conversation about preventing something like that from ever happening again?
The conversation, from what I’ve read and heard is not simply about the gun angle. Most sensible folks are calling for everything to be on the table (including myself, whom I often find “sensible”, contrary to close family members protestations). Mental health, public safety concerns, school safety, violent movies/games, bad parenting, the American culture, all need to be examined and addressed just as seriously and with alacrity. However, it is the “gun” debate that gets the most people worked up on both sides, and it is this I will address now.
What is striking and different this time is that it is not the usual suspects clamoring for gun-control coming out of the woodwork after another shooting where innocents are massacred. It is the amount of previously pro-gun, pro-NRA public and elected figures who have suddenly reversed their long-held positions on such matters that has me hopeful.
The Monday morning after the tragedy in Connecticut, I got ready for work just like I always do. I stumbled downstairs, threw on a pot of coffee, fed the yammering cats and the docile dog, headed back upstairs to take a shower, and turned on Morning Joe as I dressed.
I admittedly have an intense love-hate relationship with not only Joe Scarborough, a former representative from Florida who is a conservative’s conservative, but with his co-host, Mika Brzezinski. Scarborough is a pompous ass for the most part, and Brzezinski plays his “centrist” liberal sidekick too often with silly faces and uneven attempts to be taken seriously as the good-looking “chic” on the panel. Mr. Scarborough has an annoying habit of being the most condescending man in the room on a good day and an over-bearing dolt on his bad ones. However, I do mostly enjoy the first 10 minutes when they discuss the events of the hour in politics and world events, often with historians and politicians from both sides of the aisle, but too often find myself wanting to reach into the television screen to throttle Scarborough 80% of the time (euphemistically speaking).
However, the Monday morning show after the Newtown horror came completely out of left-field to me. I fully expected him to tow the usual hard right line that guns don’t kill people…yadda, yadda, yadda. That speech was not to be uttered that morning. Amazingly, I watched Scarborough, a man who used to garner “A’s” from the NRA when in Congress, give an emotional and heartfelt monologue about his epiphany on the matter of guns:
“From this day forward, nothing can ever be the same again. We’ve said this before after Columbine, after Arizona, after Aurora, after so many other numbing hours of murder and massacre. But let this be our true landmark: Let Newtown be the hour after which, in the words of the New Testament, we did all we could do to make all things new. Politicians can no longer be allowed to defend the status quo. They must instead be forced to defend our children. Parents can no longer take “no” for an answer from Washington when the topic turns to protecting our children. […]
“Though entrenched special interests are going to try to muddy the cause in the coming days, the cause of this sickening mass shooting — like the others — is no longer a mystery to common-sense Americans. And blessedly, there are more common-sense Americans than there are special interests, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.
“I say, good luck to the gun lobbyist. Good luck to the Hollywood lawyer who tries to blunt the righteous anger of millions of parents, by hiding behind twisted readings of our Bill of Rights. … But perhaps, just perhaps, now is the time they start obsessing on how to stop the next attack on a movie theater, or on a shopping mall, or on a college campus, or in our children’s first grade classes. The battle we now must fight, the battle we have to win, is for the safety and the sanity of your children and mine. That is a war at home that we must win. […]
“You know me. I am a conservative Republican who received the NRA’s highest ratings over four terms in Congress. I saw this debate over guns as a powerful symbolic struggle between individual rights and government control. And you know what? In the years after Waco and Ruby Ridge, the symbolism of that debate seemed even more powerful to me. But the symbols of that ideological struggle — they’ve been shattered by the harvest zone from violent, mind-numbing video games and gruesome Hollywood movies that dangerously desensitize those who struggle with mental-health challenges. And then add in military-styled weapons and high-capacity magazines to that equation, and tragedy can never be too far behind. I’ve always taken a libertarian’s approach to Hollywood’s First Amendment rights and gun collectors’ Second Amendment rights. I stood by those libertarian beliefs […]
“But last Friday, a chilling thought crossed my mind as I saw the Times Square ticker over ABC spit out news of yet another tragic shooting in yet another tortured town by yet another twisted son of that community. How could I know that within seconds of reading that scrolling headline that the shooter would be an isolated, middle-class white male who spent his days on his computer playing violent video games? How did I know that it was far more likely that he had a mental condition than a rational motive? And how did I know the end of the story before the real reporting even began? I knew the ending of this story because we’ve all seen it too often. I knew that day that the ideologies of my past career were no longer relevant to the future that I want — that I demand for my children. Friday changed everything. It must change everything. It’s time for Washington to stop trying to win endless wars overseas while we’re losing the war at home.“For the sake of my four children and yours, I choose life, and I choose change. And for the sake of our children, we must do what’s right. And for the sake of this great nation that we love, let’s pray to God that we do.”
I sat on the edge of the bed for 10 minutes, spellbound by the words spoken from a man who normally I found almost nothing that I could come to agreement on (well, maybe there was that one time he blasted Sarah Palin so hard that he sent chills up and down my spine). On a day where I would be heading into a classroom feeling enormously sad and mentally exhausted from three days of trying to wrap my head around profound personal grief and bewilderment, Joe Scarborough actually gave me hope. If someone like he could do a 180 turn, I began to wonder, how many others there were out there ready to do the same?
Because no matter how many times gun-control advocates cry out for change, it is still the same, tired voices bleating into the air. But now, there is a rising tide of people like Scarborough who have reversed long-held positions. They are perhaps more important than anyone at this moment in time. If they can become introspective and finally admit that there may need to be change in thinking, that gives a whole new credibility to gun safety changes. Here are some elected officials ready to reconsider their longstanding views on guns:
- Sen. Joe Manchin (D- West Virginia)- supported by the NRA during his two Senate runs, and appearing in his own ad using a rifle to shoot a “cap-and-trade” bill, Manchin has had a change of heart and of mind. “We’ve never been in these waters before – we’ve had horrific crimes throughout our country, but never have we seen so many of our babies put in harm’s way and their life taken from them and the grief,” he told CNBC. “That’s changed me, and it’s changed most Americans I would think.
- Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada)-Reid voted against the assault weapons ban and has had the support of the NRA for a long-time. Reid, a pro-gun-rights Democrat, said in his remarks on the Senate floor Monday that the reality is “we are not doing enough to protect our citizens.”In the coming days and weeks, we will engage in a meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate about how to change laws and culture that allow this violence to continue to grow,” he said. “We have no greater responsibility than keeping our most vulnerable and most precious resource, our children, safe. And every idea should be on the table as we discuss how best to do just that.”
- Sen. Mark Warner (D-Virginia)- another elected official given an “A” by the NRA for his pro-gun stance, Warner has changed his outlook. “I believe every American has Second Amendment rights, the ability to hunt is part of our culture. I’ve had a NRA rating of an ‘A’ but, you know, enough is enough,” Warner said according to WTVR on Monday. “I think most of us realize that there are ways to get to rational gun control. There are ways to grapple with the obvious challenges of mental illness.”
- Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania)-another NRA favorite, Casey has come out in favor of considering some new laws, such as banning high-capacity ammunition clips and some assault weapons.
- Judge Burns ( the man who sentenced Jared Lee Loughner to life in prison for shooting Gabby Giffords, killing 6 and injuring 13, a gun owner himself, and a republican)-The judge wrote an article calling for a ban on assault weapons. “I also questioned the social utility of high-capacity magazines like the one that fed his Glock. And I lamented the expiration of the federal assault weapons ban in 2004, which prohibited the manufacture and importation of certain particularly deadly guns, as well as magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.The ban wasn’t all that stringent – if you already owned a banned gun or high-capacity magazine you could keep it, and you could sell it to someone else – but at least it was something,” Burns added. This time, he said, “Don’t let people who already have them keep them. Don’t let ones that have already been manufactured stay on the market. I don’t care whether it’s called gun control or a gun ban. I’m for it… no reason civilians need to own assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.” Regulating the number of rounds a gun can fire without reloading “might be able to take the `mass’ out of `mass shooting.’”
Add to those voices many, many more average citizens, many who are NRA members, who have decided that there are areas of common ground where some possibly effective legislation could spring forth.
However, there is no dearth of red herrings being bandied about on the inter-webs and bars and workplaces, just about anywhere people discuss the issue. These are the people who believe we should not even be discussing guns in reference to gun deaths. These are the people who say that looking for ways to reduce gun deaths should include lots of things—except looking at guns– unless we get more and more of them into everyone’s hands and strapped to everyone’s hips. There are those like the paranoid NRA leader, Wayne LaPierre, who doubles down on the intransigence of the NRA to look at anything that could reduce mayhem and envisions a world where there are guns everywhere. Here are just a few of the typical responses of folks irritated by the thought of any gun restrictions:
Guns don’t kill people. People kill people!
This is the phrase I hear to the point of gut-busting, nausea from the intractable gun owner who has never seen a gun regulation he/she likes. I’ve heard this from my friends on the right who were so absolutely outraged over “Fast and Furious.” If people kill people, then the argument over F&F is moot. Those thugs would have found a gun to kill with no matter what, right? The truth is, people kill people with guns because guns kill quickly, guns kill cleanly, guns kill at a distance.
In countries like Israel and Switzerland, everybody owns a gun and gun deaths are low!
Well, you are not giving the entire story. In Switzerland, most men will serve in the militia where they are trained and tested. Yes, they are allowed to keep guns at home, HOWEVER, the ammunition for those guns is kept locked away in armories. They are not allowed to use rifles if someone breaks into their home. There is also a recent push to keep the guns locked away as well.
In Israel, another oft cited example of high gun ownership, there are a lot of restrictions and regulations associated with gun ownership. Members of the military must leave their guns on base and not carry them home (since then, suicide rates have plummeted 60%). Forty percent of all gun applications are rejected. You must pass a background test which considers “health, mental, and physical records.” Gun owners must re-apply and re-qualify for their licenses every three years.
In Canada to obtain a license, background checks are required for private sales as well as any public ones, the waiting period is 28 days for a first purchase, training is a required and you also must re-apply for a license every 5 years. One interesting requirement is that the next of kin, spouses, or partners may be interviewed and must be notified before issuing a license.
In the U.K., they banned guns and gun deaths rose!
Again, you are not providing the entire picture. Yes gun deaths rose in the first few years of the gun ban. But guess what? The rates have dropped dramatically since 2002 and now there are “only” a few dozen deaths a year due to guns.
In Australia, a strong gun culture like America, the people reacted forcefully to a massacre in 1996. Assault rifles were banned and there was a buyback of guns which resulted in 700,000 weapons taken off the streets and out of homes. These laws were passed within a span of 12 days mind you, and there has not been a gun massacre in 16 years.
I know that for many, there is a certain fear that guns will be taken away. There are very few people in this country who are calling for that. There are many people who think that all regulations do is make the law-biding citizen suffer. After all, the criminals will still get their guns. I do understand that aspect. However, mass shootings are not the only reason better gun safety is an idea whose time has come.
The problem is, guns are involved in too many accidental deaths, suicides, crimes and murders of temporary passions and despair, and not just pre-meditated crimes and crazy rampages. You cannot escape the numbers that prove that if you have a gun in the home, you or a family member are much more likely to die or be sent to emergency room as those who do not. If you have a gun in the home you or a family member is more likely to die or to be sent an emergency room than ever stop an intruder. If you have a gun in the home a child is much more likely to be shot than if you do not have a gun in the home.
I understand the gun culture in America is palpable and insatiable. Even as less people are choosing to own guns, those who do are buying more and more and more.
Violence in this country is actually declining, even as gun deaths are rising. Gun deaths have been rising as death by auto is declining. So what does that tell us?
Our history has proven that when we accept as a nation that certain things are deadly, we often attempt to take action to reverse that result. Cigarettes, although promoted (knowingly falsely) by the tobacco industry as perfectly “safe”, were proven to be deadly. We enacted a lot of legislation over decades to try to reduce their use. When we looked at the data that showed that second hand smoke was harming the non-smoker, we enacted lots of legislation to ban smoking in public spaces. The data has shown that more people are alive and less sick today because of those actions. Automobile deaths have been precipitously lowered through decades of steady legislation enacted to promote safety. Restricting teen driving to certain hours and graduated licensing has reduced death.
So let me ask you, would you want to go back to the days when smoking was considered glamorous and you could light up in a movie theater and puff away next to a 6 year-old? Would you drive a car with your 6 year-old sitting in your lap, unrestrained, as you barreled down the highway at 65 MPH? When I tell my students about the “good old days” before restrictions and regulations, they look at me like I’m crazy (yes–they do that all the time anyway).
If your answer is no to the above queries, then please examine your views as to why certain weaponry should be unregulated. Please examine why a background check is not necessary to stop someone like the Virginia Tech shooter from obtaining a weapon. Please examine why common sense gun laws like requiring proper gun storage are bad when the Connecticut shooter, but for getting his hands on his mother’s weapons, might not have had the ability to kill. Please examine why 40% of guns require no background check at all. Please examine why guns should be bought and sold on the secondary market without notice. How do you know that person you sell it to is not unbalanced, a criminal, or considering suicide–or worse–murder-suicide?
Please examine why, with today’s technology in which we have the ability to track weapons (just as we can track automobiles), you would be against that. Please examine why we should be able order 6,000 rounds of ammo on the internet anonymously and with no record, but we must fill out forms with ID when we buy Advil? Please examine why you have an intense fear that you cannot defend yourself or your loved ones sufficiently without a 30 or 100 round clip. Please examine why it is perfectly acceptable to be probed, prodded, forcibly made to become bare-footed, and detained at will by the TSA to prevent even one shoe-bomber from performing his task of killing.
All we are saying is give “examination” of guns and how we use them a chance. Will it end all massacres or deaths? No… I get it… no. NO NO NO! But could it reduce the ridiculous numbers of deaths by reducing the ridiculous numbers of guns in this country? Common sense says yes.
I want you to keep your gun to hunt and to protect yourself and your family, but I want you to try to understand that we can adhere to the Second Amendment and attempt to remediate a massive flaw in our society. Doing nothing is just not an option.
Merry Christmas to all my friends who are both new and old blogging followers! And Merry Christmas to you Joe Scarborough… Merry Christmas to you!
Peace on Earth, goodwill towards men.